With 2018's She Regrets Nothing, Andrea Dunlop cemented herself as an author with a unique point-of-view on the destructive nature of family secrets. Now she's back with We Came Here To Forget, due out in July 2019 from Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. Dunlop's latest includes another family on the brink, but this time, the story centers on a young Olympic-bound skier who loses everything.
Katie Cleary has always known exactly what she wants: To be the best skier in the world. But as the upward trajectory of Katie’s elite skiing career nears its zenith, a terrifying truth about her sister becomes impossible to ignore. It's a secret that ruins Katie’s career, her family, and her relationship with best friends and fellow athletes Luke and Blair. Her life in pieces, Katie flees the snowy mountainsides of home for Buenos Aires. There, she reinvents herself as Liz Sullivan, and meets a colorful group of ex-pats and the alluring, charismatic Gianluca Fortunado, a tango teacher with secrets of his own. But can she ever outrun her demons?
The novel is told in alternating perspectives: Katie narrates the sections about her life on the road to Olympic glory, and Liz narrates the portions about her reinvention in Buenos Aires.
If that hasn't convinced you to add this one to your pre-order list, the cover and excerpt below definitely will. While you'll have to wait until July 2019 to get your hands on this one, I have a feeling it will be well-worth the wait.
“I wish we could have stayed longer,” I told Blair. We were slap-happy from the fourteen-hour trek from Buenos Aires to Salt Lake City. Being on the long flight together had made us like little kids left unsupervised. We were stuck in coach but fortunately we’d had an entire middle row to ourselves. We drank the complimentary booze and gorged on snacks as though none of it counted so long as we were in the air. We’d just finished a training camp in La Parva and were due for a bit of a break before World Cup season got going in November. If I felt any sense of foreboding leaving South America, it was only because the low level buzz of it was constant by that point.
The trip had been Blair’s idea, he’d suggested to me and Luke — his brother, my boyfriend — that we see another part of South America before heading back to Park City. Things had been tense between Luke and I, and I sensed Blair thought we all needed a vacation.
If I felt any sense of foreboding leaving South America, it was only because the low level buzz of it was constant by that point.
“You two can if you want,” Luke had said, as though Blair has been asking his permission. “I need to chill at home before my Red Bull thing.”
“We should,” I’d said to Blair, straining to sound nonchalant about how testy Luke was being. “That would be a blast. What about Buenos Aires?”
I’d had more fun than I’d expected to. I wasn’t often alone with Blair and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed his company. He was much more easygoing than his bullheaded charismatic brother. For once, I saw this as a mark in his favor rather than something that made him the less exciting one.
“Me too,” Blair now said as the flight attendants announced that we were preparing to land. “We’ll go back sometime.”
I’d been anxious for the long flight but as we came in to land, I felt a cold thud of dread. I suspected this had more to do with Luke than anything else. I knew we needed to have a serious, State of the Union conversation, and I knew that I’d have to initiate it. It was always me who had to do the emotional heavy lifting.
It was always me who had to do the emotional heavy lifting.
As we taxied to the gate in Salt Lake City, the cabin began to come back to life: people waking each other up, putting their shoes back on, and reassembling their carry-on luggage. Phones emerged from where they’d been stashed, and passengers scrolled through messages and called loved ones to let them know they’d landed.
I wasn’t so anxious to check my own phone. It had brought me too much bad news in recent years, and I’d come to cherish being disconnected. On some level I knew that the worst was yet to come. I wouldn’t say I’d had a premonition, only that some small part of me was always waiting for that call. Luke was picking us up from the airport, a peace offering. For two days I’d managed not to think about my problems with him, worry about my sister, or even think about my skiing. But it was over now, and time to get back to real life.
I was vaguely aware of Blair beside me, pulling out his phone and watching it as it came to life. Then, I felt his body stiffen next to mine and horror started creeping in.
“Blair,” I said, hearing my own voice as though from the bottom of a well. The fear that lived at the edge of my every waking moment now consumed my mind. The worst possible thing. But it was too absurd; no one should hear that kind of news sitting on an airport tarmac with hundreds of strangers.
Blair reached over and took my hand. “Oh, Katie.”
Penny’s Rabbit is Sick
How do you lose yourself? It is all at once, in a flash? Or is it as slow and irreversible as the melting of a glacier — so that by the time the once-solid core of you has diminished to a handful of fragile crystals, the chance to do anything about it is long past? It seems to me that you lose yourself quickly, and that you lose others little by little.
The question I keep trying to answer is, when exactly did we start to lose her?
Penny was as constant a part of my childhood as the acres of forest behind our house in Couer d’Alene, Idaho. We were born only twenty-two months apart, and like most siblings so close in age, we both discovered and created the reality of our childhood as a pair. I looked to Penny to help me make sense of things, to explain the world to me from her position just up ahead.
Penny was the prettier sister. From childhood on, girls understand that there will always be a prettier sister. Penny was delicate and fine-boned, taking after our mother’s side, whereas I shot up like a weed long before puberty and had thick wrists and a solid frame. I was made with bones that wouldn’t break no matter how much abuse I threw at them, taking after my athletic father. I fell out of trees, crashed on the mountain, and did all the things that had my peers showing off plaster casts for classmates to sign without managing to bust myself up. Penny was the opposite: forever getting hurt, forever breakable. But Penny was precocious and could talk circles around the kids her age by the time she was five. Our childhood was a series of incidents in which Penny would taunt me to the edge of a fit and then I would smack her or tackle her and the corridors or our little midcentury modern four-bedroom home would ring out with “MOM! Katie’s hurting me!”
“What a sweet child!” people said when they met Penny. She had auburn hair and freckles spackling her fair skin, which went nearly translucent in the winter, and would burn at the mere suggestion of sunshine in the summer. She’d also gotten my dad’s clear green eyes, which mesmerized people even before she could talk. And Penny was sweet — just not to me, but that wasn’t in the job description. As kids, we were close in that tumultuous I hate you, I love you way that siblings are. Together we dug in the dirt, fished tadpoles from the streams, and built complicated forts out of scrap wood and mats of woven-together sword ferns. Penny organized games of Capture the Flag with the kids in our neighborhood and her team always won. It seemed then that Penny was destined to be a leader; she was smart in a way that made her seem, in strange flashes, much older than she was, almost cunning. She was magnetic, convincing, and far more social than I was. I was a little ambivalent about people, more liable to get lost in my own dreamy thoughts or entranced by nature.
Sisters learn early on that everything you are will always be in relation to the other: you’ll always be the pretty one, or the smart one, or the strong one as compared to your sister. It was especially acute because of our ages and the fact that our town was small. The Cleary sisters were like mismatched salt and pepper shakers: a pair that never quite made sense. Penelope and Katherine Cleary. Penny and Katie. P and K. Back then CDA was still tiny and undiscovered, far smaller than its less comely nearby cousin Spokane, Washington.
Sisters learn early on that everything you are will always be in relation to the other: you’ll always be the pretty one, or the smart one, or the strong one as compared to your sister.
My parents were strict about some things — swimming without adults around, being home when we said we’d be, lying, being cruel to other children — but lax on others. This was the ’80s and children — at least children in places like Couer d’Alene — didn’t have so much structure, so much expectation. My parents let us roam outside, climbing trees and eating wild huckleberries without worry. They never seemed to have any particular expectations about what their daughters ought to be. They accepted my tomboyish nature as much as Penny’s girliness. Title IX had come just in time, so they introduced us to every sport they could think of. They took us skiing for the first time when Penny was six and I was four, and I was immediately hooked. I don’t actually remember this, or at least I don’t think I do. I have a faint memory of looking out over the tips of my kiddie skis for the first time, of shooting out ahead of my sister on my second run so that my dad had to zoom after me, but it’s probably only that I remember being told that this was how it went. Memory is an unreliable narrator.
I will always be grateful for my happy childhood. Trust me when I tell you that no one has gone over it in more forensic detail than I have, searching for any hint of darkness. There just isn’t any.
If my destiny seemed clear from childhood so, in some ways, did Penny’s. In our long hours exploring amongst the pines and hemlocks behind our house, Penny was always finding wounded animals: a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest, a mouse with a mangled foot. So it was no wonder — everyone would say later — that she became a nurse. She would carefully transport the animals back to our house, where my mother would help her set up a triage station in our shed, create a habitat out of shoebox, a feeding system with an eyedropper. My mom had been raised on a farm in the south end of the state and had a handy and expansive knowledge of animals. I tagged along in these moments, a little in awe of my mom and sister.
Penny loved animals. She was one of those girls who obsessed over horses: horse shirts, horse books, horse toys. We didn’t have the land or the money for horses of our own, but my parents paid for Penny to ride at a nearby stable twice a week. At home we had the usual spate of pets: a dog, a cat, rabbits, and the occasional pet rodent. Penny’s were always getting sick; the rabbit alone ran up vet bills like you wouldn’t believe. But those tiny pets often die one after the other, don’t they? Who hasn’t had a parade of hamsters that marched through their childhood? Poor Penny always chose the sick ones. Mine were robust, like me.
My mom, Deborah, worked several days a week as a guidance counselor at the local junior high school, something she was well suited for with her inexhaustible capacity to listen and her preternatural calm. She was tall with a willowy prettiness that neither Penny nor I had inherited: me taking after my father and Penny after our grandmother: a busty firecracker of a woman who stood all of 5’1.
Our dad, John, was cheerful and practical. He worked as an accountant and was the most popular guy in the office. He was happy as long as he could ski most days in the winter. He’d bummed around various ski resorts throughout the seventies before settling in Couer d’Alene at a time when real estate was cheap as dirt. I might have inherited my love of skiing from him, but I likely got my drive from the grandfather who’d emigrated from Austria and was more or less present at the inception of Alpine skiing. He died when I was ten. I have a framed photo of the three of us at Silver Mountain that sat beside my bed for years.
His wife died shortly before he did, and my memories of her are scant. I know she was religious and made an attempt to get my sister and me into Sunday school. Penny was beloved there — so gentle and receptive — but I didn’t fit in as well.
One afternoon, the dozen or so children gathered in the basement of the Heart of the City church were given a photo that was meant to represent paradise. It featured a beatific looking blonde woman staring out from the porch of a lovely house as a towheaded toddler pushed a sailboat around a sparkling pond. We were told to first tear the pictures into pieces — paradise lost — then tape them back together — paradise restored! — in an emulation of god’s love. I hadn’t meant to thwart the lesson, I was simply an overzealous kid. When the Sunday school teacher saw my pile of shreds, she was dismayed. But, I pointed out, if I was representing god in this scenario, couldn’t I do anything?
I didn’t last long in Sunday school after that.
I don’t have a clear memory of meeting Luke, nor do I have any memory of my life without him in it. According to our parents, who learned the story from our instructors, Luke and I instantly bonded over being the most daring six-year-olds in the ski school. We were literal fast friends who had our instructor convinced he’d be sued when one or both of us went over a cliff on his watch. Luke’s older brother, Blair, was also a gifted skier and was tasked with keeping an eye on the two of us, meaning that, from then on, the three of us were always together.
I don’t have a clear memory of meeting Luke, nor do I have any memory of my life without him in it.
Penny and I had our own rooms, but I would often sleep in the trundle bed that pulled out from under her twin bed. In the glow of Penny’s nightlight, we would have long meandering conversations about everything: the mysterious adult world, the secret lives of animals, the possibilities of heaven and hell, and our own far off futures. Naturally, I already had the Olympics in my sights. We’d watched hours and hours of the Calgary games that year, though my sister preferred watching the feminine and elegant Katerina Witt to the Super-G and slalom.
“I want to live in a big house on the mountain and have eight husky dogs,” I said. “I’ll go skiing every day and I’ll have a whole room in the house for my trophies.”
“Don’t you want to get married?” Penny asked.
I made a face. I was nine, Penny was eleven, already in her dreamy pre-adolescence. “Who would I marry?”
“What about Luke?” she asked.
“Gross. Luke’s my friend.”
“One day you’ll want to be more than friends with boys. You’ll probably want to marry Luke,” Penny said matter-of-factly, “He’s pretty cute, Katie, even if he’s just a baby.”
“Ick. Anyway, what about you?”
“Well, I’ll marry either Sean,” she said, name-checking a floppy-haired, blue-eyed boy in her sixth-grade class who was the subject of many hours of gossip between Penny and her best friend, Emily, “or Jonathan Taylor Thomas. It just depends on whether I decide to move to Hollywood to be an actress.”
Penny’s vision for her future was as malleable as most kids’. One day she wanted to be an actress; the next a veterinarian; the next an airline stewardess.
“And I definitely want to have lots of kids.”
“Like the Kimballs?” I asked.
We burst into a fit of giggles. The Kimballs lived four doors down from us. They had two girls our age as well as eight additional kids ranging in age from toddlerhood to early twenties. Their father seemed to avoid being home as much as possible, and their mother was an enormous woman who’d long lost any control she might have once had over the household. She primarily seemed to focus on making sure none of the younger ones inadvertently killed themselves or each other. They ordered pizza for dinner almost every night and their ramshackle house was a lawless empire of children. Luke and I loved it there.
“Not like that,” Penny said, scrunching her nose.
Starting at age twelve, Penny began to rack up an impressive number of boyfriends. I remember her first date as vividly as if it were my own, partly because mine wouldn’t come along for a long time. In sixth grade, Penny was “going out” with a boy in her class named Jake. This mostly meant passing notes back and forth via trusted emissaries and occasionally holding hands in the hallway between classes. No “going out” actually happened until Penny put the hard-core press on our mom and dad to let her go to the movies with Jake. Emily had a crush on his best friend, Ethan, so a double date was ideal. Being that it was a group thing and it seemed very unlikely that anything untoward could happen at the Riverstone Theatre during a matinee showing of The Mask, my parents relented. Penny and Emily were in a frenzy getting ready for their date: Penny’s room with its pink vanity mirror was a haze of sugary body sprays and glittery Bonne Belle lip balms. They both wore baby tees and pulled their long hair away from their faces with butterfly clips.
“They’re being like, really silly,” I said to my mom, plopping down on the couch with her to watch Kindergarten Cop while my dad, who considered himself (wrongly) a menacing deterrent to adolescent boys, ferried the girls to their date. “I don’t get it,” I sniffed.
My mom smiled at me, probably knowing that I felt a little left out. “I was the same when I was Penny’s age.”
I scrunched my nose. “Are you serious?”
“Oh yeah,” she laughed, “Completely boy crazy.”
“Gross. I hope it’s not genetic.”
“Well, it’s fine if you don’t, but you may feel differently in a few years.”
People, including Penny, were always telling me this, that I was going to feel differently about boys one day, and I dreaded it. It made me feel like a time bomb.
“It would be so much easier if I was a boy,” I said.
“Maybe in some ways,” my mom said, “but being a girl is great too.”
My mom had cut back to part-time at the school so that she could take me to all my skiing stuff — I most certainly didn’t adequately appreciate her sacrifice at the time, but we were uncommonly close given our many hours alone in the car together driving up and down every mountain in the region.
The hullabaloo resumed when the girls arrived back at the house and changed into their PJ’s.
I lingered at the threshold of the doorway to Penny’s bedroom.
“How was your date?” I asked. I was aiming for nonchalance, sarcasm even, but at ten I had the faculties for neither.
“Sissy!” Emily squealed. Emily’s only sibling was an older brother so she was keen to share big sister duty with Penny. Though Penny frequently enumerated the many ways in which little sisters were the worst, she usually tolerated me hanging around them.
Penny gave the most world-weary sigh a twelve-year-old could muster but let a smile creep in and gave me a sideways nod, signaling I could enter. They were sitting cross legged on the lower half of Penny’s trundle bed with an open bag of Cheetos and a mound of Twizzlers and Whoppers between them.
“Ethan totally likes you,” Penny continued as I settled in and reached for a Twizzler.
Emily squealed. “I almost had a cow when he put his arm around me.”
Penny nodded sagely.
“And you guys! Oh my god, you were making out like the whole time.”
“Ew,” I said, and Penny rolled her eyes.
“He’s an eighth grader,” she said, as though that explained everything, and it sort of did. Middle school was a treacherous place, throwing together all those children in their various stages of metamorphosis; some of the boys in eight grade were nearly six feet tall, and had begun to resemble impossibly awkward men. Penny smiled slyly and pushed the long curtain of her hair over her shoulder. Emily saw it first.
“Ahhhhh! You have a hickey!”
I craned my neck to see and there it was, a quarter-sized red and purple welt just underneath Penny’s ear.
“Mom and Dad are going to kill you,” I said.
“Not if they don’t know about it,” Penny said, walloping me with a pillow. “It’s no big deal,” she said, “I’ll just wear a scarf.”
I didn’t want to admit how baffled I was by the hickey. How did you even get such a thing? It involved kissing, obviously, but the mechanics were unclear. I’d learn later that hickeys were a particular teenage phenomenon that was just exactly as stupid as it appeared.
I didn’t want to admit how baffled I was by the hickey. How did you even get such a thing? It involved kissing, obviously, but the mechanics were unclear.
Back then, the point of all the boy stuff seemed to be more about Emily and Penny than the actual boys themselves. Many hours were devoted to unpacking their crushes’ most minute actions, reading each of the paper notes passed in the hallway — never mind that searching the missives of a fourteen-year-old boy for subtext was, to paraphrase Cher Horowitz, like looking for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.
Many years later, I’d search through an old box of Penny’s teenage journals and notes that she’d long ago abandoned in my parents’ house. I was looking for some kind of clue, but the only shocking thing was how ordinary they were. Like generals, she and Emily would plot and strategize their next moves, their next notes, their next phone calls, as though the fate of civilization hung in the balance. But it was the time with each other that seemed to matter, and that I envied. Luke and I talked but it was to plan adventures, recount adventures; and mostly there was just doing.
That same year, a girl in the grade between us — Jennifer Baker — died suddenly of meningitis. Neither Penny nor I knew her well but her death sent shock waves through the school. There was a vigil for her in the school gymnasium and I remember the drained and haunted faces of her parents, the bewildered grief of her older brother, the way a halo of tragedy seemed to surround them. Our experiences with death before then had been minimal — almost abstract — involving minor pets and other people’s grandparents. Penny marshalled her class to do a fundraiser for the family and to send them cards and flowers. Even young, she was good in a crisis.
Thinking back on Penny as a little girl so many years later would bring me both comfort and anguish. Some part of me believed if I could discover the exact moment her unravelling began, if I could just locate the thread, we could reverse what happened. As though we might ever put back together what’s come undone.
Excerpted from WE CAME HERE TO FORGET. Copyright ©2019 By Andrea Dunlop. Reprinted with permission of Atria Books/Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.